The Art of Confidence

I am often asked by the girls why, after a trajectory aiming to become a professional violinist, I became a teacher. The most simple (and true) answer is that I came to realise that the role I enjoyed performing more than anything else was communicating the power of literature and language to young people.


We were very privileged to have cellist and singer Matthew Sharp launch our Winter Arts Festival last week. I used to play piano trios with Matt and a fabulous pianist called Tim Horton (who often comes to play in festivals in Norfolk so do look him up!) Our paths last crossed fifteen or so years ago, and I was amazed by the development of Matt’s already fantastic playing in the interim. Not only his instrumental skill, but his whole approach to performance, which came across very clearly in his workshop and masterclass. In one of the breaks, we chewed over the following question: why, in our combined elite musical training, had the focus rarely been on practising to perform, practising therefore to communicate, rather than practising simply to master the piece? All who heard him will agree that he has surely mastered the art of performance, and this is why he is such an incredible communicator.


In the workshops he modelled for us how to create, how to build on musical ideas, and in performance, how to communicate the essence of the music, its emotion. One of his touchstone phrases, which he spoke about at some length to the girls, is ‘know your job’. This is the question which I feel generates the power of his communication. In musical performance this translates to ‘what are the emotions of this piece that it is your job to communicate?’ Then one seeks, through experimentation and refinement, the best methods in order to express that most clearly.


It strikes me that this idea of knowing our job is very pertinent to us all, and where we communicate our ‘task’ or ‘mission’ most clearly, there we have the greatest resonance in our lives. It goes without saying that it is perfectly natural for it to take time to really know what any meaningful task fully is, and what its scope and nuances might be, and that often this end-point (if there ever is an end-point or rather a Frostian ‘way lead[ing] onto way’) arrives after the span of one’s school life.


So how can school prepare children to be powerful, confident communicators in their future adult lives? One of the points of consigning young people to spend years at school is that it is a safe space: not as the phrase has come to mean in our universities, but a safe space to play with ideas, experiment with performing a variety of roles and try to grow into them. One of these central roles is clearly the receptive and curious learner. Others might be ‘charity-event-organiser’ or ‘mountain-climber-in-the-rain-with-a-heavy-backpack-and-a-lame-friend’. Exposure to rich and varied opportunities to play, in the word’s broadest meaning, gradually develops young people’s confidence that they are equal to the task. This confidence is essentially a self-trust, gained through experiencing the power of our own agency and how failure is rarely a catastrophe. It is always helped by the encouragement and belief of others in a supportive environment, peers, parents and teachers, and the availability of the opportunities themselves.


Confidence-generating experiences can come to us in many ways of course, but during our Winter Arts Festival week, crowned of course by the glorious evening of music, dance and drama at Norwich Playhouse, it seemed as though one of the very best ways of building self-trust was through engaging in the Performing and Creative Arts. Once you have acquired confidence in one pursuit, as the Lower Sixth have been confirming in interviews for the next Head Girl team this week, it has a wonderful way of being transferable to a whole host of other situations.


‘What is your role in this situation?’ Ask your daughter the question, applicable in many different contexts. Then encourage her by holding her to account on her answer and believing with her that with practice she can rise to whatever the occasion requires her to perform, and communicate.



Mrs Kirsty von Malaisé



Friday 1st March 2019








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since 1875



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Norwich High School

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